Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on September 6, 2009
Green Dam, the censorship software that the Chinese government wanted on all PCs sold in China, turned out to be a flop. Beijing’s still keen on exerting greater control over the Internet, though, and Jonathan Ansfield has a good story in the New York Times about the censors’ latest tactic. According to Ansfield’s story, new “secret government orders” have been forcing popular Chinese websites to require new users register with their real names before posting any comments online. The goal, clearly, is to chill debate online, where anyonymity has created room for Chinese to express political views more freely than anywhere else. “Previously this system worked much as it does on every news site, with any person being able to comment under any username they choose and no personally identifiable information being required unless they decide to share it,” writes Ansfield. “The new system being enforced on two of China’s largest websites requires that full names, identification numbers and phone numbers be provided just to comment.”
Blogger Justin Robinson has a good take on this at Atomic MPC. “Of course these numbers can be falsified and incorrectly entered, but the majority of users wouldn’t think to do so, meaning that their comments will be under intense scrutiny - with a path that leads directly back to them,” he writes. “With so many people in the country and an increasing percentage of them accessing the internet regularly, this means that potentially millions of people could fall under the intense glare of the government.”
Maybe it’s just a coincidence that Beijing has pushed this new policy in the aftermath of the Green Dam fiasco. The government’s attempt to force that filtering software on PC users prompted outspoken criticism online, though, and no doubt there are some people in Beijing who feel they could have pushed Green Dam through if Chinese net users hadn’t criticized it so forcefully - and often anonymously. There are some Eye on Asia readers who probably think this new government policy makes sense. Let’s hear from you. And don’t worry about having to reveal your real names: Here at BusinessWeek, you are free to maintain your anonymity.